Gideon Levy is a dean of Israeli journalism, a longtime columnist for Haaretz, and on Friday he gave an impassioned speech at the National Press Club appealing to Americans to change a pro-Israel policy that goes against U.S. interests and has made Israel a “lost case.”
His bluntest words were over Israel’s interference in the Iran deal:
Let’s call it from now on the United States of Israel. Because many times when someone looks at the relations between Israel and the United States, one might ask, who is really the superpower between the two? And those questions become much more valid in the recent days when you see what is going on in Iran. And really I am not in a position to tell Americans what to feel… But would I be an American, I would really be embarrassed. When you see a title in Haaretz, in my newspaper, which says two days ago…”Israel to pressure Congress to thwart Iranian nuclear deal.” And an Israeli official says [to] Haaretz, that Israel will lobby the US Congress to pass legislation that would make it difficult or even impossible to approve a comprehensive deal with Iran– Can you imagine yourself if it was the opposite, if someone had written that the Americans are trying to act in the Israeli parliament to change its decisions? We are dealing now really with almost questions of sovereignty. We are dealing, needless to say –that no state in the world would have dared to do it, and no statesman in the world. And I will tell you frankly, It’s not Israel’s fault. Israel is doing whatever it can– it’s the one who enables it.
Levy spoke at an all-day conference on the Israel lobby organized by the Institute for Research/Middle East Policy and the Washington Report for Middle East Affairs. He said he had come to plead with the American public to take control of Israel/Palestine policy before all is lost.
The large crowd was silent as he spoke in desperation of a society that had lost all connection with the world:
We have to face reality, and reality is that there is no chance for a change from within the Israeli society. No way… The only hope is for an international intervention, and the only hope is from this place, from Washington, from the United States, from the EU. Only from there.
Because Israeli society is today by far too brainwashed. Life in Israel is by far too good. Israel is, let’s face, it a society which lives in denial, totally disconnected from reality. Would it be a private person, I would recommend either medication or hospitalization. Because people who lose connection to reality might be very dangerous either to themselves or to society. And the Israeli society lost connection with reality, it lost connection with the reality in its backyard, it totally lost connection with the international environment.
Really to believe that 5 million Jews know better than 6 billion people of the world? Really believe that 5 million Jews will be able to continue to live on their sword forever? Is the one example in history in which any country lived on its sword forever? Empires! Really believing that in the 21st century it is acceptable to ignore the international law in such a way, to ignore the international institutions and to rely only on the United States — and Micronesia.
Levy denounced the role of the Israel lobby in producing this mess.
[W]e are dealing with a corrupting friendship. If there wouldn’t be an Israel lobby, Israel would be a better place to live in, Israel would be a more just place. And I think that if it wouldn’t be the Israel lobby, the US would be a better place and a more democratic place. But it’s not for me to judge the American politics. Still by the end of the day we are dealing with an enigma. Nothing can explain it. Nothing can explain how administration after administration, legislators after legislators are going in the very same way which contradicts U.S. interest in so many cases, which contradicts international law, human rights, moral values, you name it. Can it be only this small group as powerful as it is, is it the full explanation? I doubt it but that’s for you to decide, not for us in Israel.
Levy said he thought at first the invitation– from conference organizers IRMEP and WRMEA– was from AIPAC, the premier Israel lobby group.
I said, That’s the chance of my life. I am going to come there to Washington and tell them, with friends like you, Israel does not need enemies.
But even though it wasn’t AIPAC, or even the Anti-Defamation League, the conference is so “crucial and so important,” Levy said, because it gives him hope that there will be change in the United States. “And we jump on any sign.”
He had jumped on the J Street opening in 2008. “Here it comes! But it didn’t come.” And when Obama was elected, Levy said he had cried in joy. “And it didn’t come.”
“Change will have to come here. In Israel– is a lost case, forget about it. Israeli society has surrounded itself with shields, with walls, not just physical walls but also mental walls.”
He said three principles allow Israelis to live easily with the brutal tyranny that is the occupation.
1, “We deeply believe we are the chosen people. Then we have the right to do what we want.”
2, Never in history has the occupier presented himself as the victim. And not only the victim– but the only victim around. (Here Levy brought down the house when he said that a day after Benjamin Netanyahu went to Paris and told all Jews to move to Israel, he said in Israel that Israel was living under an existential threat from an Iranian bomb. “I asked myself How can you dare call Jews to join this suicidal project wwhen the Iranians are going to bomb us?”)
3, Israelis have undertaken the “systematic dehumanization of the Palestinians.” And this allows Israelis to live with everything. Because the occupation does not involve questions of human rights.
“And if you scratch under the skin of almost every Israeli, you will find there, almost no one will treat the Palestinians as equal human beings like us.”
This set of three beliefs has allowed Israelis to live in peace with those ongoing crimes, for many years.
Levy first confronted the reality in the 1980s, accidentally, traveling into the occupation as a journalist and seeing that the real drama of his society was taking place there, in a criminal project just half an hour away from Israelis’ homes. “And we Israelis don’t want to know, and most of all do not care.”
Levy also touched on Jewish identity and Israeli exceptionalism.
I must be frank with you, I don’t know what are Jewish values. I know what are universal values. There are very clear universal values. And very very clear international law. International law is very important– except for Israel. Israel is a special case.
Because of the United States’ support, he said. And things there are only getting worse. His society is moving in a militaristic, religious direction. When Israel bombed Gaza last summer, the beaches in Tel Aviv were crowded as helicopters passed over on their way to rain destruction. And the newspapers and television did not show anything of what Palestinians were experiencing. When Levy called out the pilots in a Haaretz column for carrying out the murderous missions, he needed bodyguards. Till he found that they were settlers, who argued with them, and he dropped the detail because he felt safer without it.
Levy finished up by denouncing the two state solution.
I truly believe the two state solution is dead. I think that this train left the station, I deeply regret it but I believe that it left the station. I think all those who talk about the two state solution do so deliberately only to gain more time in order to base the occupation even deeper and deeper.
Needless to say, Levy’s riveting speech has not been picked up by mainstream media. I will be covering other great speeches at the conference in days to come. But note that Huwaida Arraf and Miko Peled also spoke on Levy’s panel.